5 climbers killed in avalanche in Russia’s south

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ROSTOV-ON-DOV, Russia (AP) — An avalanche in Russia’s southern Caucasus mountain range has killed five climbers including an instructor, an emergency official said Saturday.

Four climbers in a party of nine survived the snow slide, which struck as they were ascending the Gedan-tau peak Friday, local emergency spokesman Oleg Ugnivenko said. Eight novice climbers were all in their 20s and extremely well equipped, he said.

The body of their 40-year-old instructor was found immediately, and a search operation including helicopters and 100 rescuers turned up four frozen corpses Saturday morning, Ugnivenko said.

The mountaineers were climbing the mountain, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) east of Europe’s highest peak Elbrus, along the simplest route. They began the ascent Friday morning and were near the Gedan-tau’s 12,140-foot (3,700-meter) summit when the avalanche hit, Ugnivenko said.

The novice climbers, all from Moscow or St. Petersburg had undergone an intensive, six-day training course in the climbing base of Bezengi, in the province of Kabardino-Balkaria, immediately before the ascent, he said.

The North Caucasus is a popular destination among Russian climbers but suffers from underdeveloped infrastructure, and is perilously near the violence-wracked regions of Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan.

Bezengi, from where many climbers tackle the 18,510-foot (5,642-meter) Elbrus and other peaks, is about 90 miles (140 kilometers) west of Ingushetia, the westernmost province hosting an active Islamist insurgency.

Sochi, the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics, is around 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of Bezengi.